The local artist's latest exhibit features colorful skylines, neighborhoods

Samantha Bennett doesn't remember ever not making art.

She has a vivid memory of herself as a child, at maybe 3 or 4, in the hospital. She asked the nurse for a pen and paper. Her face was covered in bandages. Her cousin of about the same age had come to visit, but she ran away crying when she saw Bennett's face.

The nurse granted her request, and she began to draw-one of the many times she'd sketch in a hospital.

When Bennett was a baby, she contracted bacterial meningitis, a very rapid, life-threatening infection. She lost some fingers and half of her right foot in a matter of hours. Scars covered most of her body, and she's undergone almost 30 reconstructive surgeries throughout her life to repair the damage. But her positivity is disarming.

"Everybody's got their issues," she says. "It's just that I wear mine on my face."

Art became an essential coping mechanism in Bennett's life, leading her to pursue it professionally. The 38-year-old refers to painting as a means of helping her heal, physically and emotionally.

On Saturday, March 15, her solo art exhibit, "Cities and Neighborhoods," will open at New Albany's Hayley Gallery and will remain on display through April 23. It features colorful images of skylines and iconic buildings, all priced between $350 and $725.

Bennett's painted through loss, too. She was 30 and had already miscarried once when her newborn baby died. The hospital placed a butterfly above her door to alert staff.

Shortly after, she started creating "Butterfly Portraits," a series of paintings dedicated to families who've lost a loved one. She donates them each time, and she continues to receive requests from all over the country.

"I'm trying to give back," she says. "I'm helping families heal because I have conflicts over loss myself. It's sad, but I think my empathy has shown in my work."

Today, Bennett, also known as "Painter Sam," is married and is busy taking care of her two sons, ages 4 and 5, creating art full time and volunteering with the National Meningitis Association. She's received national attention for her work and her resilience. Follow her on Instagram for a glimpse of both.

"I've been very lucky," she says, crediting her "fighter-type" personality for getting her through each difficult stage in her life.

"Cities and Neighborhoods" will be her second exhibit at Hayley Gallery. She's also done a solo show at McGraw-Hill Education's corporate office, which she'll do again later this year.

Join the gallery and Bennett for an opening reception on Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m.

-Taylor Starek, @taylorstarek

Photos courtesy of Samantha Bennett